EU leaders will meet in late April or early May to approve Brexit negotiating guidelines after Britain triggers its divorce, a European source said today.
Nine months after the stunning referendum vote for Brexit, Prime Minister Theresa May's government will finally trigger Article 50 of the EU's Lisbon Treaty next week, starting a two-year exit process.
On the EU side of things the European Commission will lead negotiations, but the final agreement will require consent from European Parliament, which consists of hundreds of MEPs from every member of the EU.
Sterling fell half a cent against the dollar on what Brexit minister David Davis described as a move taking Britain to "the threshold of the most important negotiation for this country for a generation".
Once prime minister Theresa May officially invokes Article 50 next week, she is expected to make a statement to the House of Commons.
"We are ready to begin negotiations", Margaritis Schinas, the spokesman for European Commission chief Jean-Claude Juncker, told a briefing.
The letter May sends next week will plunge Britain into a period of intense uncertainty. Those things have become part of life since the United Kingdom joined what was then called the European Economic Community in 1973.
Talks on the terms of Britain's exit from the European Union, and how the two sides will handle relations afterward, must be completed within two years.
May's preparations for Brexit were wrong-footed last week when Scottish First Minister Nicola Sturgeon announced plans to hold a new independence referendum in order to keep European Union ties.
The triggering of Article 50, the never-before-used mechanism for a country to leave the European Union, will set off a two-year negotiation in which Britain will have to agree with its 27 erstwhile partners on the terms of divorce.